Ceres Curiosity is Killing Me!

I don’t know about you, but this is making me absolutely nuts!

Yesterday, NASA’s released this image on Ceres from an altitude of 2,700 miles.
Yesterday, NASA’s released this image on Ceres from an altitude of 2,700 miles.

 

My rational adult brain understands that I only need to be patient a little while longer. In August, the Dawn spacecraft will skim above the surface of Ceres at a mere 230 miles. Soon after that, we will hopefully receive a convincing explanation of what those bright, shiny spots are on Ceres. But until then, I’m losing sleep.

Fortunately, the photos from Ceres have improved as the Dawn spacecraft has gotten closer. But rather than solve the riddle, each photographic improvement has bought more questions.

HST 2004
HST 2004
Dawn, Feb. 2015. Distance 29,000 miles
Dawn, Feb. 2015. Distance 29,000 miles
Dawn, June 6, 2015. Distance 2,700 miles
Dawn, June 6, 2015. Distance 2,700 miles

Just what the heck are those mysterious, shiny patches? Our greatest minds are postulating subsurface ice reflecting sunlight, or ice volcanoes, or even salt. Me? Well I’m not convinced that the sun can light up ice that brightly from 257 million miles away. I could be wrong.

And ice volcanoes? Shiny salt? Sigh.

So just what the heck are they anyway??

Lynn

Happy New Year!

What a year it’s been! Amy found Uranus with 2015-logoher binoculars (no small feat!!) and we both learned how to use setting circles. We gave one of our Lynn & Amy Shows at the Neville Public Museum to a captivated crowd, and together attended our very first star party in Minnesota. We went to the annual club Perseids picnic last summer, and uploaded our 100th blog to this website.

November and December were especially busy as our jobs bogged us down. Then the shopping and baking season kicked in and we prepared for family time and Christmas and the company that it brings. I baked a zillion Christmas cookies, and got to spend a whole week with my first grandson who is quickly figuring out how to pull himself up and stand on his own. It was magical.

However, along with the joys of Christmas comes the crappy skies of Wisconsin. As the atmosphere above us grows colder each winter, the condensation and cloudiness spread out horizontally and results in mostly overcast days and nights. The clouds pretty much roll in here late in November and stay until the Messier Marathon. Then, when it does warm up a little, we are stuck with ground and air temperatures that are almost the same, which brings fog and condensation. Oh, and living a few miles away from a Great Lake doesn’t help much either.

And if that’s not bad enough, the cold temperatures discourage all except the heartiest from going outside for more than a few minutes – even on the clearest nights. Right now, the wind chill is double digits below zero, and last night the actual temperature was -7°F. If I heard right, the wind chill could dip below -30°F tonight. Sigh.

However, despite all the current weather gloom, there is a lot to look forward to in the coming year, starting off with the NPMAS Christmas Party this Wednesday (the White Elephant Gift Exchange is always a hoot!). Then there is some winter camping at Camp U-Na-Li-Ya in a few weeks, lots of blogs to write, and a calendar full of meetings and pizza at Happy Joe’s. There will be warmer nights of observing at Parmentier’s, public observing events, meteor showers, a couple of total lunar eclipses, the New Horizons spacecraft arriving at Pluto, and hopefully another great trip to the Minnesota Star Party.

The year 2015 promises to be a great year for the Astro Babes, and we hope it is a great year for you, too. Happy New Year!

– Lynn

A time to mourn

SpaceShipTwo (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

It was a sad week for the burgeoning U.S. private space program.

First was the loss of the unmanned Antares supply rocket last Tuesday. It exploded just seconds after liftoff in Virginia, and 5,000 pounds of food, experiments, and supplies for the International Space Station went up with it. It was the third cargo mission to the ISS contracted by NASA.

A few days later, the Virgin Galactic Spaceship Two crashed during a test run in California’s Mojave Desert, killing the co-pilot. A malfunction took place shortly after it separated from White Knight Two, the rocket that hoists Space Ship Two to an altitude of 45,000 feet.

The food, supplies, and scientific experiments can easily be replaced. However, the losses would have been much greater if Spaceship Two had been filled with the first batch of space tourists. More than 600 people have already bought their tickets at around $200,000 a seat.

Because of the forced retirement of NASA’s shuttle program in 2011, the U.S. is totally dependent on the Russians to get our astronauts into space, and on private industry to get supplies to the ISS. It is what it is.

There will be long-term repercussions from both of these incidents, but that doesn’t mean we should discontinue our exploration efforts. Space is, and always will be, a very dangerous place.

Chicks in Science

As much as I hated to name this blog post that way, it had to be done. I’m referencing the comment made by former Treasury Secretary & Harvard University President Lawrence Summers who suggested that there might be a genetic reason that women don’t excel in math and science related fields of study. The question “what’s with chicks in science?” was asked by an attendee of a panel discussion at the Center for Inquiry.

The person brave enough to respond to the question was Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and host of the new Cosmos series. His answer was quite honest and thought provoking and brought me to tears.

How much talent have we discouraged due to social norms and prejudices?  What could society possibly gain by intentionally discouraging bright young minds of all kinds to stretch and grow to their full potential? Doesn’t that seem counterproductive? Imagine what we could have accomplished by now if we had been wise enough to see beyond the fear and stereotyping. It’s enough to take your breath away.

Some of you may say “But Amy, we’ve come a long way”. That is true, but we have a long way to go.  I had to explain to my daughter’s seventh grade math teacher that when he pits the boys against the girls in a problem solving contest it becomes less about math and more about gender. If the boys win, boys are just smarter than girls. If the girls win, well that’s just a fluke. Let’s teach our kids to work together as a team!

One reason I like Mr. Tyson is his passion. Where’s OUR passion people? Why was I the only parent who had a problem with the whole ‘boys against the girls’ concept of teaching?  No one else said anything, and hadn’t for years. Why is that?

I say we show this video to every parent and every educator in the country. A tall order I know, so let’s get going!

Thank you Mr. Tyson for your insight and your bravery for saying it like it is.

Amy